How the Boy Scouts came to matter to me once again.
The handwritten letter that landed on my desk began “Dear sir or whoever can help me.” The note was from an eighty-year-old gentleman named Ronnie Kuebodeaux, who lives in the small town of China, outside Beaumont. A former scoutmaster, Mr. Kuebodeaux was planning a fifty-year reunion for his old troop on September 24, and he wanted to invite Stephen Harrigan, one of Texas Monthly’s longtime contributors. In November 1980, Steve had written a cover story titled “Can the Boy Scouts Save America?” that featured Kuebodeaux and the young men of Troop 10. “I would like to have Mr. Harrigan know about this deal in China, Texas,” he wrote. “We sure did have a super good time with him.”
Of course, I immediately reached out to Steve, who immediately reached out to Mr. Kuebodeaux. Two things in particular struck me after reading the letter. First, I was proud that the story still meant so much after all these years. Journalists want nothing more than for their stories to have an impact and to be remembered. Second, I had always loved that particular piece, because I was a member of Pack 291 and Troop 291 as a boy growing up in Plano. But my feelings had grown more complex as an adult; despite the role scouting had played in my childhood, I had become critical of the Boy Scouts. I explained why in a December 2012 column called “Scout’s Dishonor,” in which I declared that I would not allow my son, Colin, to join the organization as long as it discriminated against gay members and volunteers.
And yet, four years later, things are different. The Scouts have reversed course—helped along, in part, by the leadership of Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense and onetime president of Texas A&M—and Colin, who is now seven, had been asking all summer to join Pack 12, which is based out of his school in Austin. So by coincidence, shortly after I heard from Mr. Kuebodeaux, Colin and I attended our first Cub Scout meeting. All the memories came rushing back: the “secret” handshake, the two fingers held in the air for quiet, the posting of the colors. Colin loved it. Cubmaster Albert Padilla asked the kids to say who they thought was brave, and shouts immediately went up: “Knights!” “George Washington!” “Luke Skywalker!” I took comfort in how familiar it all seemed; this was the childhood that I had always imagined for Colin. As I stood there taking in the scene, I hoped that one day I would be able to write about Pack 12 the way Steve wrote about Troop 10. And maybe, just maybe, a future editor might hear from Mr. Padilla about a reunion years in the distance.